By Jake Donovan
Argenis Mendez is fully focused on his next title defense, which comes Friday against mandatory challenger Rances Barthelemy at the Target Center in Minneapolis. The bout serves as the 2014 season premiere of ESPN2 Friday Night Fights.
Even with all of his mental energy locked in on this weekend's challenge, it's impossible to not think ahead given all of the talent and activity in the 130 lb. division. New Year's Eve in Japan saw Takashi Uchiyama and Takashi Miura defend their belts in separate bouts in Tokyo, paving the way for a potential rematch and unification bout at some point in 2014.
Stateside, unbeaten Miguel Angel 'Mikey' Garcia defends his belt against Juan Carlos Burgos on January 25 in New York City.
Mendez is cognizant of the challenge immediately in front of him, viewing this weekend's bout as a must-win in order to pave the way for what he insists will be the biggest year of his career.
"I want to congratulate (Uchiyama and Miura) on their wins today," Mendez said earlier Tuesday afternoon after learning of his divisional rivals' accomplishments. "I'd love to fight both of them at some point and add their belts to my collection. If they fight each other, then I will put myself in position to get the winner.
"Mikey Garcia is also on the radar as well. I've been thinking about nothing other than taking care of business (on Friday) with Barthelemy. Once that fight is over and I defend my title, all of the other champions are on alert for 2014."
Mendez makes the second defense of the belt he acquired in emphatic fashion, doubly serving as tasty revenge. His championship win came last March, knocking out Juan Carlos Salgado in a rematch to their closely contested affair in Mexico in Sept. '11.
The feat ended Salgado's second title reign at 130. His first reign was one-and-done, scoring a shocking knockout over then-unbeaten Jorge Linares but suffering a 12th round stoppage against Uchiyama in Jan. '10.
The lone defense for Mendez thus far came in the Friday Night Fights season finale last August, as the Dominican star was held to a highly controversial 12-round draw versus Arash Usmanee. The bout headlined a card marking the promotional debut of former heavyweight king Mike Tyson, who joined forces with Mendez' promoters - formerly known as Acquinity Sports - to form Iron Mike Productions.
Usmanee found himself in another questionable call earlier in 2013, landing on the wrong end of a disputed decision in his 12-round title eliminator versus Barthelemy in last year's Friday Night Fights season opener.
Barthelemy proved his worth later in the year, scoring a 2nd round knockout over Thailand's Fahsai Sakkreerin this past June in Minneapolis. He returns to Twin Cities this weekend in hopes of remaining unbeaten and returning to his adopted home of Miami as a new champion.
Mendez obviously has other plans in mind.
"He had a lot to say when I fought (Usmanee)," Mendez recalls of the banter between camps last summer. "We agreed to fight Arash because everyone knows he beat (Barthelemy), so I did the right thing. Once I'm done with this guy on Friday, he'll know what it's like to lose for real.
"I'm ready to give the best performance of my career, snatching this guy's unbeaten record and sending word to all of the other champs that they gotta go through me to try to prove they the best."
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com, as well as a member of the Transnational Boxing Ratings Board, Yahoo Boxing Ratings Panel and the Boxing Writers Association of America. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox